“My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”
Anais Nin (French born American Author of novels and short stories, 1903-1977)
I have a thirst to explore, understand, experience, get to grips with this life in a raw bloody and direct way. My best understandings and wisdoms have come through experiencing directly the world, the light and the shadow, going right into the midst of experience and letting the waves and traumas of it rock and tear through my body and soul, trusting I will survive somehow. This is all very exhilarating, but dangerous too – and since my new world involves self-care, and care of the feelings of those who have to watch me traumatise myself, I’ve been wondering about other approaches.
I’ve been told that there are many ways to develop understanding – reading, researching, observing others… the key objection to my behaviour in the past, is when I return from my hard-won (or survived…) battles clutching a treasure of pure comprehension saying “look, I finally get it!” to find my friends and lovers banging their heads against their palms and saying “I TRIED TO TELL YOU” this, “why did you have to go do it yourself? Couldn’t you have just listened to me?” For a long time I didn’t care, because to me the personal knowledge, earnt by myself, is worth so much more than second hand opinion. Also I didnt really think other people knew better than me (yep, I’m that arrogant). I needed to challenge and test everything. But in my new world, I can see the tears, grief and pain behind their exasperation – they COULD see and knew already what I was striving and struggling to understand – they had to watch helplessly as I risked my self, and sometimes defiled my sacredness and broke what was precious. And since they loved me, this caused real pain. It was never about who knew more, or best. Now I understand this, it has led to waves of grief over my past behaviour and what those I care about felt because of my choices and actions.
When you only look at the world as you alone, and part of you craves obliteration, you fearlessly risk yourself. This is not true courage. True courage is daring to feel and face the fullness of your choices, the impact and ripples it has outwards. Taking responsibility for it all. Knowing that every step you take into your fullness will lead to joys and pains, for self AND others. There will always be hurt somewhere. Get conscious of it, and look for ways to care for yourself and those you love as best you can. When you act without regard, you may destroy that which you most cherish.
The issue for me is that words and reading and mind-thinking is not enough. For true transformation and comprehension, on the deep soul-shaking-making level that I crave, I need a way to experience the phenonemon. Through my body, my energy, my essenece. I need the deepest parts of me touched sometimes, or it doesn’t satsify or reach the root of what wants to shift inside. To open, to release, to transform. I could have happily read books my whole life, but my true life began when I put them down and threw myself into the alchemy of experience.
Two solutions/ideas came to mind today…they relate together quite potently.
1. Developing Empathy and connection
“Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words have similar usage but differ in their emotional meaning.” (Empathy vs sympathy)
In order to feel experience and learn deeply from it, we could consider developing our empathy skills . I do wonder if there are forms of empathy-to-the-world, beyond just direct to peoples feelings, perhaps depending on if we are sound/visual/kinaesthetic in nature. Playing in an orchestra or band require a level of musical empathy or awareness of the players around you, and even listening to music actively requires a level of attentive connection and feeling to the sounds. We can “tune in” to music, and let it carry us and move us, sensing the subtleties of it. Or we can just let it play in the background…fine if you are just in the audience but less so if you are a performer. Visual arts also need empathy to appreciate. It’s only in the last few months that I finally comprehended why people go to art galleries! To do this I had to move beyond a distant intellectual appreciation and simply looking at the art, and instead be in my body and open myself to really feel it. Taking it in through my eyes, but letting ripples of response flow in my body and energy. Feeling the colous, textures, impressions and letting it stir memories and imagination with in me. Not just observing, not just listening – but feeling. And from here I am transformed by the art.
So same with people experience life? The other night I danced for hours in a club, drawing in the drug highs of those around me, mingling it with the music and vibration, and journeyng myself without ever consuming anything. Something in me laughed at the idea of using other people’s bodies to filter the drugs for me, with me siphoning of their excess energy/experience. I can do the same with sexual acts, and sadistic ones. This is a skill I wish to develop, I’m curious how deep it can go, and it cuts out the risk of drug come dowms, sexual diseases and criminal records quite significantly.
Where empathy skills for experiential learning really come into their own is in the use and witnessing of ritual.
Use of ritual
Rituals have always been a part of human development and healing. I believe in reclaiming ritual therapy as a key part of the emerging psychosomatic medicine of the future/past. It is an unspoken component of our lives already.
For example : When patients came to our student osteopath clinic, we met them wearing the recognisable white coats of the medic – making it clear who was in which role for this ritual. Just the act of booking a time and intent to come to the “healing temple” would often start helping people feel better. We would make a “sacred space” for them in a special room decorated by “mystic symbols” – anatomy posters and diagarams – and then take them through a set of procedures/actions. As budding clinicians we were taught how to use medical language – lots of greek and latin – between ourselves and then translate it for the patient. Either way, hearing “words of power” – nonsensical but recognisiable as the medicine of the day (another time or place we could be talking about balance of humors, chi-lines, chakra) all added to the aura of expertise and ritual of healing. Often just assesing and offering an explanation for the pain or issue in this context would start relieving the symptoms. There is more to this story, for another time…
I have engaged with, crafted, created conscious and transformative ritual for myself at various key points in my life. These are the moments that creativity, magic, feeling come together. My rituals are not planned out line by line, but flow like a dance, usually seeded by a core intention. Sometimes these have happened spontaenously in other bodywork or healing sessions.
Because rituals are so immersive – there are layers of sound, colour, sensation – I find that they can touch and work on those deep layers of the soul that I long to access. Ritual scenarios are the art equivalent of life. They are not the direct pure experience, but they allow us to access or feel echoes/ressonance with the real thing – perhaps based on how willing we are to let go in to our imaginations, our living empathy, our response to the symbols and activities. Rituals, like paintings and music, must be actively engaged with in order to be fully appreciated. Wheras real life situations are going to smack you round the face with full intensity, whether you are ready for that or not.
But can a ritual drama ever provide as authentic an experience and understanding as the real thing? I’m not sure if this is the right question any more. Authentic experiences can be dangerous and cause ripples of trauma through my tribe. What is useful is accessing or developing an appreciation of the patterns, the way one thing changes to another in order to release what is stuck, finding the emotional-experiential feel to support or challenge the intellectual understanding. I have the sense that done carefully and powerfully, ritual experiences can help carve out channels-pathways through our soul-feelings-emotions that allow true alchemical change to flow or understanding to come. We don’t need to actually risk death to have a profound experience through a death ritual. Another slant on this is how many shamans and magic workers HAVE gone through a genuine near death experience (for example) – and then can use or draw on their experience to help others move through a ritualised version. Lots more to discover with this.
Rituals are medicine for the soul. The soul impulse arises from a desire to learn or transform – we use our creative-intellectual skills to craft a ritual around this living impulse, and Life supports us. Otherwise ritual can be an empty, sometimes repetitive action with no power or essence to it.
What I want to develop and explore now is getting into ritual deeper, to craft indiviudalised magics to help an person or group transform. I also get the sense that if the right level of empathy could be invoked in those watching-participating, then it might only take one or two people to go through the experience (especially good if it is an ordeal!) for the whole group to feel echoes of transformative effect.
Something like this can happen watching theatre, drama, even horror films. We can ride the currents of our emotional response, sometimes using this to release stuck emotions or gain insight. I think of times a tragic scene or lost love in a film trigger memories of my own lost loves, allowing tears of grief to release. Or friends who play violent computer games to deal with anger. This is just the tip of iceburg.
in my new world – I will seek to notice and develop rituals for my souls’s needs, allowing the transformation to happen in an environment of consciousness and love. This might save it from spilling out in to shadowy actions and unneccessary risks. And might even be more effective…?
There’s an essay I should write on this topic alone – but I laugh when people dismiss something as “placebo” or “psychosomatic.” Give me a sugar pill that makes me feel better any time over a drug with toxic side effects. Most people don’t ask themselves what the mechanism actually is behind this real therapeutic benefit. The details are fascinating, I encourage anyone interested to go on an intellectual adventure. The End of Modern Medicine, by Laurence Foss is good place to start…